Holidays Love

Our Spiritual Wakeup Call

40 Days and 40 Nights

We finished up the Mardi Gras celebration last night.  The kids and I hit up Disneyland and New Orleans Square.   We danced, enjoyed some rides, marched with the Mardi Gras band and devoured bread bowls while enjoying jazz tunes.  Of course we ended the night with Beignets at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz kitchen en route home.

As I walked to the car I reminded the kids why we slipped in this  “last hurrah”.  Yep- its time to give up a lot of creature comforts. It’s time for Lent.

What is Lent?  Why do we do it?  As you probably know, Catholics believe that Jesus died for their sins, then rose from the dead into Heaven. The day he rose from the dead is Easter, and Lent happens during the 40 days before that.  A serious fast day for all Catholics between the ages of 18-59 is imposed by the Church; Ash Wednesday is meant to be hard.  Ash Wednesday, because it comes first, and we’re often unprepared, can startle our senses and be something of a shock to our system.

images-1During that time, a lot of Catholics sacrifice something in preparation for Jesus’s rising as a form of repentance.  The idea of Lent is to give something up that you normally enjoy. Chocolate is usually a biggie around this time of year — which is a toughie, because it’s also Valentines and Easter season! Soda, French fries, meat (especially on Fridays) and your favorite shows (so long for now, American Idol!) are popular sacrifices as well. Recently, a lot of friends have started giving up texting, tweeting, and Facebook.

Fundamentally, we fast because Christ did. All of our spiritual endeavors are designed to help us draw closer to the Lord. This is especially true during the season of Lent.

Fasting is one of the great exercises of the Catholic faith. Fasting from any of our basic pleasures of food and drink, entertainment, even sleep, is a sure reminder of our utter dependence on the Lord. Fasting brings us into clear focus, according to Pope Benedict XVI, “frees the longing that dwells in the heart of every human being so that it can reach its true height.”

Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are the pillars of Lent.  Fasting helps us to pray more attentively.  Ash Wednesday is our spiritual wake-up call. It allows us to consider front of mind what it is we are most attracted to, or what habits have cluttered our daily lives, and what we may desire to offer up as humble sacrifices.

Historically, the season of Lent entailed more community-wide and rigorous fasting. In Italy, Carnivale, literally carne-va “the meat goes,” foresaw the humble fare of Lent. Mardi Gras anticipated the days of Lenten deprivation ahead. In England, Shrove Tuesday was a tradition of eating pancakes, to use up rich foods like eggs, milk, meat, and fats prior to the Lenten fast.

While modern versions of these festivals focus on partying, what we as Catholics carry forward is the root understanding of our need to fast. Lent is a time of physical and spiritual house-cleaning, an annual opportunity to reframe our lives. Increased simplicity of diet and lifestyle can help us more easily lift our hearts and minds to God.

If you are looking for other ideas and even some great Lent Apps, click here for more.